20 shows to look forward to in 2020

I look ahead to some of the 2020 shows exciting me most with an emphasis away from the West End, looking mostly instead at the London fringe and across the UK 

Sure, there’s all sorts of big ticket shows coming to London in 2020 (with big ticket prices too to go with their big names), like Sunday in the Park with George with Jake Gyllenhaal, Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg, A Doll’s House with Jessica Chastain. But there’s so much more to discover if you venture away from Shaftesbury Avenue…

1 The Glass Menagerie, Odéon–Théâtre de l’Europe at the Barbican
Not that I want to be predictable at all but Isabelle Huppert! Acting in French! Right in front of you! I understand that van Hove-fatigue might be setting in for people but only a FOOL would pass up the chance to see one of our greatest living actors. A FOOL! 

2 The Glass Menagerie, Royal Exchange
And if you wanted to do a direct compare and contrast, Atri Banerjee’s revival for the Royal Exchange will be worth checking out too for an alternative perspective. 

3 The Wicker Husband, Watermill
Even before Benjamin Button tore my heart apart, I was excited for the arrival of this new musical by Rhys Jennings and Darren Clark but now, the bar has been raised even higher. And the gorgeous intimacy of the Watermill feels like a perfect fit.


4 Children of Nora, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam
Me: “I don’t need any more Ibsen in my life”
Also me: Robert Icke revisiting the world of A Doll’s House through the eyes of the next generation? Yes please.

5 Romantics Anonymous, Bristol Old Vic
I don’t think I thought this delicious Koomin and Dimond musical would ever actually return, so this short run in the UK ahead of a US tour feels like a real blessing. Now where did I put my badge?
Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2020”

Review: Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, The Other Palace

So much fun to be had with the hilarious guys of Showstopper! The Improvised Musical at The Other Palace

“It’s time you felt my gay-rage”

I’ve been watching the Showstopper crew for as long as I’ve been blogging (the King’s Head was a great venue for them), so it’s a real treat to see them constantly move onwards and upwards, stepping up from their monthly West End residencies (which they’re still continuing) to a fully fledged 7 week run at The Other Palace, during which they’ll celebrate their 1,000th show.

For the uninitiated, Showstopper! The Improvised Musical is a show that is made up on the spot by a group of disgustingly talented comedians, taken from ideas given by the audience in terms of musical influences, plot twists and titles. It’s as simple as that and it is ingeniously done, night after night, to produce a brand new musical each time, which has never failed to leave me helpless with laughter. Continue reading “Review: Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, The Other Palace”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things


Ahoy sailors, if what you thought the world of musical theatre was missing was the opportunity to be trapped on a boat for four days with a load of wealthy musical theatre fans, then worry no more. Stages – the Musical Theatre Festival at Sea has now been announced, a four night cruise from Southampton to Amsterdam and back, with entertainment from the likes of Michael Ball, Beverley Knight, Lee Mead, Christina Bianco, Sophie Evans, John Owen-Jones and the Showstopper guys.

It looks like it could be hilariously good fun – red carpet arrival onto the ship, masquerade balls and workshops and Q&As with the performers. But it sure ain’t cheap, prices starting at £609 with the taxes added on, though as it doesn’t set sail until 15th October 2018, there’s time to start saving those pennies. For me though, you can consider this my not-so-subtle hint to Floating Festivals that they obviously need a blog review of their cruise and that I am the one for the job.

Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

Review: Showstopper, Lyric

“You can’t let the pipes play you, you play the pipes”

After their residency at the Apollo, the Showstopper team have skipped along to the Lyric where they have been performing their brand of improvised musical on a random selection of Mondays, roughly every three weeks. If you’re new to their work, Showstopper is created anew on the night, suggestions garnered from the audience for the title and the various styles of musical theatre in which the songs will be improvised. And it is always extremely good fun and frequently hilarious, hence my multiple visits over the years.

This evening we saw Greece!, a tale of aspiring thespians, goats, mischievous demi-gods, mysterious rambling women and some impressive pipes, set at the base of Mount Olympus and other assorted ancient Greek venues. And musically we went from Gilbert and Sullivan to West Side Story to Andrew Lloyd Webber, though the highlights were the Hamilton-style love duet (big up to Andrew Pugsley and Pippa Evans) and a truly lovely Waitress-inspired number which although ostensibly a comic number about Dionysus, possessed a strikingly powerful musicality (led by the divine Ruth Bratt). The perfect way to liven up a Monday evening.

Running time: 90 minutes (with interval)
Future performances: Monday 15 May 7.30pm; Monday 5 June 7.30pm

Re-review: Showstopper, Apollo

“What’s it gonna be Paul, what’s it gonna be?”

The beauty of improvised musical show The Showstoppers is that you can go as many times as you want as they make it up fresh for every performance. So even though I saw two performances on their press day last week, I was more than happy to go again this Sunday evening, this time to experience the delights of Jim’s Soggy Bottom

A tale of love and Russian politics in the Bake-Off tent with numbers in the style of The Boy From Oz, Sweeney Todd, Urinetown and Jesus Christ Superstar among others, it was highly entertaining as always. Ruth Bratt continues to be a hoot but Pippa Evans has been in a real rich vein of form recently to nab MVP for me. Worth a trip if you’ve not been yet and worth a revisit if you have!

Review: Showstopper, Apollo

“We even got the dinosaurs in there”

It’s perhaps a sign of the times that an element of variety has crept into theatreland. Where the West End is usually dominated by plays and musicals, we’ve seen the likes of Vegas-style revues like Sinatra and magic shows like Impossible extend its entertainment remit and now we can add improv shows to the list and not only that, improvised musicals. Created by Adam Meggido and Dylan Emery, The Showstoppers have been making up musicals on the spot for eight years now, regulars in Edinburgh and smaller venues like the King’s Head and the Charing Cross Theatre but they’ve now made the significant leap to the Apollo on Shaftesbury Avenue.

Their routine is a simple one – a brand new show at every performance (we were invited to the matinee and the evening show to prove just that) inspired by suggestions from the audience and embroidered into life by 6 performers (from a company of 12) who literally make it up there and then. The first of the day’s shows was Puck Off, a tale of love and wings in an Irish fairy grotto with a jive-talking Puck; the second was The Lyin’ King, set in the jungle that is the Daily Mail’s offices. But in some ways, the details don’t really matter as the show is remade every night from the variety of responses from the stalls and the unexpected swerves that come in their telling. Continue reading “Review: Showstopper, Apollo”

Review: Showstopper, Udderbelly

“Ooh look at my spices”

A first trip back in ages to Showstopper and instant regret that I’d left it this long. I think perhaps I saw them too many times too close together so I took them for granted but regardless, their brief engagement on the South Bank ahead of an Edinburgh run enabled me to rectify this. The Showstopper company are an improv group who specialise in making up musicals on the spot, taking audience suggestions for titles, musical theatre styles and random plot points and somehow weaving them together into comedy gold.

Tonight’s show was GunWharf Souk, set in 1945 the long-established Little Morocco area of Portsmouth, where sailors on shore leave find their heart captured by the locals even though their warship is waiting to take them back to the Pacific. As with much comedy, you kinda need to be there to hear how funny it is and I can assure you that it is quite simply hilarious to watch these talented performers (Ruth Bratt is a comedy genius, Pippa Evans also brilliant too) improvise so randomly and expertly from love songs to Lloyd-Webber, Sondheim to (Gilbert &) Sullivan. 

Review: The Tailor-Made Man, Arts Theatre

“A man amongst men”

 

Described by Joan Crawford as “the happiest married couple in Hollywood”, new musical The Tailor-Made Man focuses on the 50 year love affair between Hollywood star of the 1920s William Haines and interior designer in the making, Jimmy Shields. Discovered in a talent competition, Haines signed for MGM, who accepted his homosexuality as long as he kept it under wraps. When a liaison with a sailor led to his arrest, MGM boss Louis B (LB) Mayer demanded he marry a woman to save his career and maintain his clean-cut image but Haines, with the support of his lover Shields, walked away from Hollywood and together they set up a hugely successful interior design business.

Amy Rosenthal and Claudio Macor’s book whips through events with a keen sense of pace, the story covers a substantial number of years, and uses a flashback framing device of an older version of Jimmy is interviewed by a keen young reporter who makes him reflect on a life past. There’s an element of drama for sure, but where the show really blossoms is in the evocation of the gossipy environment of Hollywood stars off-duty and the perfectly pitched depiction of a loving gay relationship. Dylan Turner makes a chisel-jawed Haines and Bradley Clarkson is a puppyish Shields but they both show several sides to the lovers, making them complex but likeable individuals who are clearly better together and they have a sincere, beautiful chemistry together.  Continue reading “Review: The Tailor-Made Man, Arts Theatre”

Review: The School of Night, Soho Theatre

“It may not be iambic pentameter but it is pretty f*cking close”

In advance of the start of the Edinburgh Festival, there have been many opportunities to sample some of the works going up there in venues across London, though the only one that I managed to fit into the schedule was The School of Night at the Soho Theatre. The main attraction was the fact that the company contained a number of the Showstoppers crew whose work I have enjoyed several times and so I was in no doubt of their improvisational skills. But where that previous show saw the team coming up with a musical on the spot, helped (or hindered) by audience suggestions, The School of Night sees them focusing on the world of literature, culminating in the creation of a uniquely special Shakespeare play that is shaped and guided by whatever the audience calls out.

Starting off with some improv games based on the reading material of the audience and stories we were encouraged to share, the troupe immediately demonstrate their considerable gift of rapid-fire, quick-witted wordplay and repartee which soon had me howling with laughter. There’s something delightful in the sheer abandon with which the players create such imaginative worlds out of seemingly nothing and they obviously relish the freedom given to them in this opening section. Continue reading “Review: The School of Night, Soho Theatre”

Review: Burlesque, Jermyn Street

“What are you going to do, tap dance me to death?”

Burlesque is a new musical with book and lyrics written by Adam Meggido and Roy Smiles and music by Meggido as well. Adam Meggido might well be a recognisable face as he is part of the Showstopper! ensemble, a team that improvise a new musical from scratch every night, but he finally decided to write one down and over several years, Burlesque has developed into its current format at the Jermyn Street Theatre where it now has its world premiere. Set in 1952 America, it looks at how the culture of fear encouraged by McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch-hunts impacted on the lives of a set of performers in a burlesque show.

At the heart of the story is Johnny Reno, a comic trying to keep his head down after being black-listed due to his father’s connections and his unwillingness to co-operate with the FBI. His girlfriend, one of the dancers, has just announced she’s pregnant, his comedy partner Rags is hitting the bottle way too hard and the lusty theatre owner Freddie is struggling to find financial backers whilst being distracted by one of his new recruits. With the pressure on him increasing on all sides in an increasingly paranoid society, Johnny is forced to decide what, and who, is most important to him. Continue reading “Review: Burlesque, Jermyn Street”